When Sara Evans first moved to a new lakeside home right off the Conway sandbar in Central Florida’s Belle Isle last year, she received a friendly tip: Make Costco runs a habit, and while you’re there, stock up on snacks and soda pop—especially for the weekends.
The reason? When school’s out, the neighborhood’s kids and teenagers have made a ritual of taking out the family boat and docking it outside of random homes. The snacks and soda pop are for them.
On its face, one could conclude that the town’s kids might have more autonomy than is good for them, but Evans says this isn’t the case. Residents of the Conway neighborhood and the quaint nearby town of Belle Isle are tight-knit, and the chain of lakes that surrounds them is the community gathering space. Collectively, they’re its living room where people water ski, wakeboard, wakesurf, tube, swim, fish and socialize.
“We love to spend time on the lake here,” Evans says. “And we love the town, too. It’s small, quiet and has a real hometown feel—we even have our own police department.”
Before moving to Belle Isle, Evans and her husband, Brock, ran an excavation company out of Wedgefield, a small town that she says was far away from everything—restaurants, grocery stores, and lakes.
But Brock had grown up in Belle Isle and was able to persuade her to move to the neighborhood, which also happened to be a lot closer to where most of their excavation work is done: Lake Nona.
“Besides,” Evans says, “Brock still has roots here. A lot of his family still lives here, and his mom still lives in the same house he grew up in.”
The same story is true for Jennifer Hinkle, a commercial loan assistant for Valley National Bank. She and her husband, Greg, decided to raise their two children in Conway because of family roots in the area.
“I have lived in Conway my entire life,” Hinkle says. “My father was born and raised in Conway, too. My mother still lives in the house that my two brothers and I were raised in. I stayed in the area because there’s a strong sense of community here. It’s great that the friends I grew up with are still here and our children are growing up together and playing baseball together.”
Baseball, she says, consumes most of her family’s time. But she’s used to it. She and her brothers all used to play ball. A passion for the game is blood-deep.
In addition to the yearlong baseball weather and water activities, Evans and Hinkle both like Belle Isle and Conway because, unlike other Lake Nona-area neighborhoods, they have their own amenities. If Evans wants to take her husband and their three kids to dinner, they don’t have to load up the car and make the short drive to Lake Nona or the longer one to downtown Orlando. Rather, they can just hop in the car and go—or even walk—to Cork & Fork, a farm-to-table restaurant that specializes in seafood and wine. (Evans says she always orders the pan-seared salmon, but not before starting her dinner with an order of deviled eggs that come topped with bacon jam.)
The neighborhood also has its own craft beer bar, The Gnarly Barley, which pours all kinds of drafts and whips up gourmet sandwiches. (Evans says she’s a sucker for the turkey bacon and cream cheese sando.)
With a small-town feel, nearby restaurants, a family-like community that values the many interconnected lakes that surround it, and living just a 20-minute walk from her job, Evans says she’d rather be here than anywhere else.
With all that, frequent Costco trips seem like a small price of admission.
This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Central Florida Monthly Magazine. The free publication is distributed in Lake Nona, Lee Vista, Harmony, Conway, St. Cloud, and Kissimmee via direct mail (30 thousand copies), email (20 thousand subscribers), social media (thousands of followers) and the Social, CFM’s signature networking event. Download the digital issue here.